Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Pearson Hits Pay Dirt with Uncapped Private Expansion: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Pearson Hits Pay Dirt with Uncapped Private Expansion: News

Article excerpt

'Uncontrolled' growth in HNCs and HNDs may lead to university retrenchment. John Morgan reports.

The government's "uncontrolled" expansion of student numbers at private colleges is boosting a multimillion-pound income stream for FTSE 100-listed education company Pearson while spelling potential cuts for universities.

Higher national certificates and higher national diplomas - for which Pearson's Edexcel examinations arm is the main awarding body - account for nearly a quarter of private college courses newly designated by the government for student support, documents obtained by Times Higher Education under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will introduce private student number controls in 2014-15, it has in the meantime increased designations of private courses - opening the door to unrestrained expansion.

Such is BIS' concern about the expansion of HNCs and HNDs that it has written to the 23 providers "expanding most rapidly" to tell them to recruit no more students on such courses for 2013-14, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, confirmed last week.

A Pearson spokeswoman said the company was "working with BIS to ensure that students claiming loans on the basis of enrolment at a college go on to register on and complete the qualification". This raises the question of whether there are cases where students are being funded but are not turning up to study.

Mr Willetts told Parliament last week that growth in numbers "has been particularly concentrated" among HNC and HND students, with big increases also seen in the number of Bulgarians and Romanians applying for student support.

Private colleges seeking to have their courses designated by BIS (thus making their students eligible for Student Loans Company funding) must have them validated "by a UK awarding body" - which can mean either a university or, in the case of HNCs and HNDs, Edexcel.

BIS papers released to THE show there were 226 new course designations at private providers between 14 December 2012 and 14 August 2013. Of those, 51 were for HNDs and HNCs.

'Get a grip on expansion'

Andrew McGettigan, author of The Great University Gamble, said: "I think the number of HNCs/HNDs raises issues about BIS' policy. It should be designating institutions, not courses, and should have a robust set of criteria - that some are teaching towards a Pearson qualification is not sufficient."

Libby Hackett, chief executive of the University Alliance, said: "The cost of this uncontrolled expansion will come from further reductions in places at established universities, which are highly regulated" and where expansion is tightly controlled. …

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